Complexity causes a lot of issues in a sound-bite world. It is hard to relay, and it leads to easy confusion. It can lead to 100% support of a 150 Away Fan section and allowance for any other away fan to buy a seat where ever they want to be simplified down to "limiting" away support.
It can also lead to me wearing a few different hats - North American soccer recruiter for SBN, Sounder at Heart Manager, Alliance Council member. Sometimes there are things that I can and can not talk about in each of those roles. Sometimes the blurring of those roles reduces my ability to communicate in others. On certain occasions I have gotten emails as if I am a member of the Sounders front office. My writing on the Sounders has led to limiting my communication with some Timbers blogs, and my past experiences as a Council member (and in the Supporters Summit) have conflicted with my ability as a writer as members of the Timbers Army have been unwilling to talk to me about certain issues on record. I wrongly took the several people who have said these things to me to be an official edict (the TA does a great job at message control) and did not directly contact their leadership.
That is rectified now as Garrett Dittfurth (Leader in 107IST and member TA) and I conversed at length via email regarding Cascadia Away Support after the tri-partite release from the three largest Supporters Groups for each club.
First the Release
Cascadia Supporters Groups Jointly Oppose 150 Seat Limit for Visiting Fans
Unified Call for Clubs to Reasonably Accommodate Traveling Fans in 2011
Portland, OR., Vancouver, B.C., Seattle, WA. -- October 22, 2010 --The Timbers Army, Emerald City Supporters, and Vancouver Southsiders have combined forces in order to jointly oppose limiting visiting support in Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland to the 150 tickets stipulated by Major League Soccer. The united supporters groups assert that visiting support adds greatly to the atmosphere of their home stadiums and that limiting the amount of visiting supporters to 150 is an insult to the tradition and history surrounding the Cascadia Rivalry and undermines the growth of Major League Soccer in the Pacific Northwest.
In the NASL days thousands of fans packed cars and buses traveling to and from Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver. The USL proved to be no different with each group sending hundreds of fans to their rival cities in support of their hometown team. In the past decade, traveling support has increased each year between the Cascadia Clubs and in 2010 each supporters group has sent as many as 750 fans to US Open Cup matches, pre-season and regular season matches between the three teams. At the cusp of the three clubs returning to the highest professional level in North America the supporters groups have been left in the dark with rumors emanating from Seattle that owner Joe Roth has decided that only 150 visiting supporters will be allowed in to, "ensure the safety and security of the Seattle fans while keeping the integrity of the home crowd and the great atmosphere." The Cascadia supporters groups strongly disagree with that sentiment.
"If Seattle limits traveling support at 150 in Qwest Field our front office would likely do the same to Seattle at the very least if not Vancouver as well," said Dave Hoyt, President of Portland's 107 Independent Supporters Trust. "It is unacceptable that any of the three clubs will limit traveling support to a mere 150 seats when the demand is far higher and all three stadiums can accommodate, at a minimum, 1,000 away supporters in a safe and comfortable manner."
"Obviously our stadium can accommodate traveling supporters," said Keith Hodo, President of Seattle's Emerald City Supporters, "According to page 30 I.14 C of FIFA football club regulations clubs are recommended to allocate 5% of the seating in their stadium to the away support. We (ECS) feel that our club should heed this recommendation and exceed it, offering as many seats as either Portland or Vancouver are willing to bring people. This will only enhance the atmosphere in the stadium and increase the profile of football here in the States."
"A 150 fan limit simply denies the reality and passion all three sets of supporters have for their club and the fact many will travel regardless of artificially imposed limits, " said John Knox, president of the Vancouver Whitecaps supporter's organization. Knox continued, "The Southsiders strongly believe that there needs to be a cohesive, unified policy among all three clubs that provides for a safe and fun fan experience for visiting Cascadia supporters while maximizing the opportunity to travel in 2011 "
The three supporters groups strongly encourage traveling support from all cities in the Cascadia rivalry.
-- There should be no limits on traveling support and there should be a designated section for away fans. Traveling supporters on another team's home turf electrifies the atmosphere and increases the earnestness in supporting your own team.
-- Simply letting visiting fans purchase individual tickets throughout the three stadiums will create more chaos and a higher potential for incidents all three groups want to avoid.
-- Work together to find acceptable solutions to security concerns. The collective front offices should work with their supporters groups to assure the safety and security of both the home and away fan.
-- Major League Soccer stands to benefit from this rivalry. In 2011 the eyes of the league will be set squarely on the Pacific Northwest. Do not rob the league and the three clubs represented from becoming the pride of Major League Soccer.
I actually agree with the sentiment and the goals of all three groups, but I think that they expect too much. "No limits" and "unlimited" have both been used, and no club would agree to that. First and foremost a club's stadium is for its own fans. Similar to when I talked with John Knox, I started with asking where Portland would be able to put thousands of traveling Sounders fans.
Obviously capacity needs to be part of the discussion. PGE Park's capacity has been said to be expandable up to 24K for exhibitions and USMNT games if they were to choose Portland as a destination. For the 2003 women's World Cup they were able to fit 30K in PGE. At this point I think the matter is a little more complicated than just saying PGE is not capable of handling traveling supporters. There are always ways to work around a problem and the point of all of this is to emphasize that we want a solution to be found to accommodate as many traveling supporters as possible.
It is important for all Seattle fans/supporters to remember that the TA really is much like them. They love their team and want what is best for it. They also want you there in significant numbers and safely.
Yes most of the safety issues would be easily dealt with if there was simply separate entrances and a separate seating area. Nobody wants an unfortunate situation to occur but the reality is the 107ist board can't control everyone that gets on a bus to go to Seattle anymore than the ECS can control everyone that gets on one of their buses to Portland. After the incident in Seattle where the Timbers fan was allegedly a victim of "hooliganism" and the way the media pounced on it it's clear that the media in this country is focusing a little more on instances like this surrounding soccer. You and I both know that incident wasn't hooliganism and there will most likely be far more instances of "hooliganism" surrounding this weekends college football game between Oregon and Washington. The best solution is to disarm the situation by separating the supporters.
That suggested separation of supporters is of key importance. It is part of MLS policy, and in fact when a group travels they have a specific contact with the organization hosting them to help ensure that security is adequate for BOTH sides. This was one of the small adjustments that was made at the Supporters Summit '09 here in Seattle. You may recall that there were Timbers Army and Southsiders at every event, this was done at my suggestion and with the cooperation of MLS, the Seattle Sounders and all of the host Supporters Groups here in Seattle. Garrett thinks that was a great initial opening for MLS to start understanding the Cascadia Derby.
I think that the Supporters Summit was the start of MLS finally realizing what they have on their hands within the Cascadia Rivalry. All we want down here is a good final resolution for all the supporters groups and safe and secure trips for those supporters groups to our three cities.
Many have felt that I have pointed fingers at Portland, and while it may come off that way, it is only because I think the stadium there will be the most difficult one in which to find a solution that doesn't punish their local fans for having Seattle so close. I am of the firm belief that thousands will head down on a weekend match against the rival city.
We would be able to enjoy their bars, their hotels, our win in a game with more meaning than just a pre-season match or a 3rd Round US Open Cup during the week. But at the same point the Timbers themselves need 20,000 regulars in attendance more than they need 5,000 Sounders fans once. Most of their policies will be to ensure success over a season, not 2-4 matches a year.
For all the sniping at myself that has occurred, or the sniping at Joe Roth, let's note that the Timbers front-office has not stated an official position to the TA at this time.
I believe the only people that could speak with any authority on whether or not our front office has insinuated that the blame should be placed on Seattle would be members of our 107ist board. Chatter on message boards, Twitter, or Facebook would hardly qualify as authoritative on the subject. The openess our front office has given the "fans" in general has been limited to Merritt saying that they are working with the other clubs and that the fans of all three teams should be pleased. So far the supporters groups have not been consulted or asked about this.
For all the criticism that the Sounders Front Office has received in regards to this issue, let's not that at least they are communicating with us about it. They have heard our voices, through Council, Advisory Board, and other discussions they know exactly what Sounders fans/supporters want. Still, there is no official resolution, not from any side and while the season is four months away, let's also note that season ticket renewals, or first time purchases are starting now. Each team will want as many of those as possible, and without a quick resolution there will be season ticket holders in each community forced to move at least twice a year in order to satisfy more than the 150 minimum.
I asked Garrett how much would be enough.
We do realize the issue is more complex than "unlimited" travel. At this point I don't want to put a certain number on how many seats I think would be enough. I think that from past experiences with the US Open Cup matches and Community Shield that at least 1000 would be necessary.
And we get back to complexity. What these businesses have to decide, particularly in Portland with its smallest of stadiums, is how many happy visitors are necessary to increase TV ratings? How does that offset the upset season ticket holders that would normally be in those sections? How do we sell seats to out-of-town guests that we refuse to offer to locals?
Those are tough questions for any business, generally unique to sports, and yet they need answers now so that we have months to prepare for 2011.